Counting the cost of modernisation

New buildings sprout like mushrooms across Kigali's skyline but this splash of modernity in a once rundown capital city belies a grimmer reality: thousands of poor have been pushed out to make way for these structures and still await resettlement.

"Weeks have now rolled into months and into years, but the municipality has not kept its promise to provide us with a good place, homes and other facilities," said Ephraim Kabalisa, a 41-year-old shoemaker living near Nyabugogo, a Kigali market.

Kabalisa now lives in a new rural settlement, called an agglomeration, the lowest level of local administration, in Rulindo District, 20 km north of Kigali. Each agglomeration comprises between 50 and 70 households.

The government created the housing scheme in a bid to ease the chronic housing deficit. People living in shanty houses have been driven from Kigali to make way for the buildings, under a new urban planning programme known as PIGU (Projet d'Infrastructure et de Gestion Urbaine).

Kabalisa's oldest child, Andrew Kanani, sits beside him while he works. Kanani, 15, had just ended his third year of primary school and was planning to continue. "Not only have we been driven out off our land without an alternative, we don't have anyone who can help us improve our poor living conditions," Kanani said.

Inadequate compensation

In a recent newspaper article, the editor, Bonaventure Bizumuremyi, said: "Mismanagement of funds and negligent follow-up in the construction of new infrastructures of dwellings, primarily in the rural areas, have created man-made disasters in many agglomerations especially for those peoples evicted from their land in the city."

Agnes Nyirahuku, 65, a small businesswoman five years ago before the government expropriated her home, shares this opinion. Although she was given compensation, it was not enough for her to build another home outside the city. The Kigali municipal authorities have tried to resolve the problem by providing alternative housing for them in the new agglomerations.

"There is no sanitation or other infrastructure for development that they promised us, like hospitals, schools, electricity, or water supplies. The misery related to joblessness is too frequent and the authorities have not helped us find a solution," Nyirahuku said.

According to a 2002 government report, 90 percent of Rwanda's estimated 8.3 million people live in rural areas, with a third of households headed by women or children, as a result of the 1994 genocide. The population density of 300 per square kilometre poses a major challenge for the government’s poverty-reduction efforts. With many rural households grappling with poverty, the government has conducted surveys to establish the exact numbers affected, the latest effort being one by the new Rwanda National Institute of Statistics.

"The main mission of such action is to take the leading role in improving the government of Rwanda's capacity in using evidence-based information for decision-making by coordinating national efforts for the benefit of the rural communities," Louis Munyakazi, the institute's managing director, said.

Urban poor lose out

The drive to modernise Kigali was planned immediately after the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 937,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed, according to the government. While on paper the rejuvenation of the city is a good idea, many of the urban poor see it as only benefiting the rich, the financially secure and government bureaucrats.

Kigali, founded by German explorers in 1907, saw its population quadruple between 1991 and 2002. Today, it has 800,000 inhabitants, according to the institute of statistics.

A population survey carried out in 2004 by United Nations Habitat estimated the country's population at 8.25 million, and with so many urban poor uprooted and allotted substandard housing, new solutions need to be found because the compensation they received was inadequate.

Calling for more help for the resettlement of shanty-town dwellers, Kigali Mayor Aissa Kirabo Kakira said: "Many people have been compensated, but they have been unable to manage well the money we had paid them to repurchase their old properties."

However, a civil-society activist based in Kigali, who requested anonymity, disagreed with the mayor's position. "The best solution would be to change tactics rather than to pay them cash, because the income generated in selling the landed properties of the poor in towns was supposed to directly benefit the people expelled from their homes."

Sub-standard housing

According to sources, after this decision to destroy the precarious dwellings of poor communities in Kigali, many workers in the city are now living in sub-standard housing, without running water, electricity and other infrastructure such as medical and educational facilities.

Gasigwa Mugabo, 32, a demobilised soldier working as a taxi driver in Kigali, has had to relocate to the agglomerations. Before moving 10 km northeast of Kigali city, Mugabo - whose jobless wife and three children rely solely on him - was requested to sell their piece of land in Gasabo District in the city.

"We thought that the living conditions were going to improve, but the situation becomes increasingly difficult," Mugabo said. "Almost half of my monthly income, which doesn't exceed US $100, is spent on transport facilities to reach the workplace from my home."

A vegetable and fruit vendor, Rosalie Uwamwiza, said: "Theft, prostitution and violence are on increase. Our apprehensions have never been taken into consideration by the municipality's authority."